County Board says politics shouldn't stop an increase to state's gas tax

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners are urging legislators to pass a transportation funding bill this week that includes a gas tax increase.

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners are urging legislators to pass a transportation funding bill this week that includes a gas tax increase.

Saying that new transportation revenue is essential for state and local governments to complete road and bridge projects that are long overdue, the commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday backing a "comprehensive and balanced transportation funding package."

The board endorsed seven different revenue sources including an increase to the gas tax and license tab fees, trunk highway bonding, general obligation bonding for local roads and bridges, a half percent increase in the state sales tax for the metro area, a half percent local option sales tax for transportation in Greater Minnesota and a change in the county-state aid highway formula for new revenue.

They endorsed a similar package last year that was approved by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The five-member County Board was eager to go on record supporting the transportation package in order to send a strong message to local legislators, who are debating a transportation bill this week.


Commissioner Dennis Peterson, of Spicer, said he can't understand why "anybody who knows anything" about roads, "whether they were Democrat or Republican" would not support a transportation funding bill that includes a gas-tax increase.

"Something needs to be done," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen, of Lake Lillian.

If the current bill on the table is approved, it would generate an additional $19 million for Kandiyohi County, and an additional $2.5 million for the city of Willmar, over the next 10 years, according to the commissioners.

Given the near certainty that Pawlenty will veto the transportation bill, Madsen said he hopes efforts to "marshal support for a veto override" are successful.

Since 2004, when state funding for county-state aid highway projects leveled off, Kandiyohi County's road and bridge levy increased 60 percent in order pay for road projects, according to Kandiyohi County Public Works Director Gary Danielson.

In 2004, the Kandiyohi County's road and bridge levy was $2.4 million. It is $3.8 million this year.

In 2005, the county also issued $3.7 million in local road bonds that will be repaid with property taxes.

By shifting the funding for roads from state taxes to local taxes, the state has also shifted its responsibility to maintain and improve the state highway system, county officials said.


Besides the formal resolution, the commissioners also signed a letter to the editor on Tuesday that is published on the opinion page in today's West Central Tribune. In that letter, the commissioners urge legislators to vote yes for the bill and "work harder" to get it approved so that jobs can be created and roads improved.

The letter says that Minnesota's "lack of investment in highway and bridges has become painfully clear and the time to act is now to improve the safety and quality of our transportation."

They also wrote: "Loyalty to constituents and the projects in this county needs to come before loyalty to political parties. This is the year to get the job done."

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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